Episode 126: Lessons In Building A Thriving Agency or Freelance Business with Maggie Patterson

Well friend, we made it through another week and I hope this podcast finds you and those you love doing well, and that you’re doing whatever you need to do to take care of yourself during these tough times. 

I’m really excited to have a great business owner, friend and colleague, Maggie Patterson here to discuss running an agency during a global pandemic and turbulent business times. 

I’ve worked with Maggie and her company for the last few years and off and on before that since 2014. She’s the real deal. She knows her business, her community and her craft. I don’t trust a lot of people in business, but I trust Maggie implicitly because of her deep knowledge, skills and experience, but also for her radical transparency and no-nonsense style. Plus, I truly appreciate her calling BS when it needs to be called. 

When everything started going sideways for me, Maggie was one of the first people I reached out to not only for a sanity check but also to get her and her team’s help on some projects that I just knew I couldn’t get done. In fact, I sent her a Basecamp message in all caps that said I NEED YOUR HELP with about 10 exclamation points… and Maggie and her colleague Sara jumped right in to help. 

I’m so thankful to have Maggie and her team in my life and business and wouldn’t be here without them! 

Before we jump into the interview, let me give you Maggie’s official bio.

Maggie Patterson is the editorial director at Scoop Studio and the creator of Small Business Boss. With two decades of experience, Maggie has spent her entire career in client services and has been a successful entrepreneur for 15 years. Today, she works with freelancers and agency owners to help them implement smart strategies for business growth using proven marketing, sales, and client experience tactics. She’s the host of the Small Business Boss podcast, has been on stage at events such as New Media Expo, Podcast Movement, and the Conquer Summit, and her work has been featured in leading publications such as Entrepreneur.com, Fast Company and Virgin.com. 

Let’s take a look at some lessons from Maggie.

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Lesson #1: Selling a course isn’t a get-rich-quick solution.

  • Despite what many marketers would have you believe, it’s easier for me or for anybody to sell a $10,000 contract to one company or one person than to sell 10 courses at $1,000 each to make that same $10,000. 
  • When we talk about selling courses, there's a lack of understanding of what it takes to find 10 people who will buy your course. We've been brainwashed and persuasion-hacked to believe that building those audiences is really simple. However, it’s a lot harder than most people expect. Building an audience takes time and energy.
  • What people don't talk about in this industry is that you need a clear, specific niche before you even start thinking about launching a course. And then there’s the time, energy, and financial resources you’ll need to build the foundation needed to be able to sell courses effectively. 

Lesson #2: The fastest path to cash is always going to be one-to-one relationships. 

  • You need a heck of a lot less infrastructure to provide a service. Most of us have skills in some way, shape, or form that can be shaped into a service offering that people will pay for. At the end of the day, people will always pay to get their time back. They’ll always pay for expertise. They're not always going to pay for a course.
  • People like to really go hard after the concept of “trading time for dollars”, but what do you think you're doing in any business? You're always trading your time for dollars. Yes, there's leveraged income, but you know what? There can be leveraged income in your rates. There's leveraged income in the type of service offerings you do.

Lesson #3: You don’t have to do it all yourself.

  • At my agency, I don't do all the work. I have a full-time employee. I have contractors. I don't do everything. Sometimes, as a business owner, it's really easy to get trapped in the mentality of “I have to do it all myself.” but guess what? You don't, and it's SO much better if you don't.
  • You can actually build a business that’s enjoyable and gives you the lifestyle you want. Typically, I don't work a full 40-hour week, even with running two businesses and having lots going on, because I've got my time and how I spend it is very, very locked down.
  • A lot of potential agency owners, or people who want to build a team, overlook this because we're in an entrepreneurial builder mindset and we think nobody will want to work for us. But there are lots of people who want the perks of having their own business, but they're not really interested in the running of the business. They don't want to find their clients. They don't want to have to build clients. They don't want to have difficult conversations. They just want to sit down and do their work. There are a lot of really talented people waiting for visionaries to find them. They're great integrators. They're great hands-on people. 

Lesson #4: Know your numbers. ALL the numbers. 

  • I track everything and I keep a really firm handle on a number of key metrics. Those numbers are indicators that tell me if there's a problem. How many leads are we getting? How many deals are we closing? What does my revenue look like?
  • If you run a service business and you only ever look at your revenue, you're missing out on some important metrics along the way. For me some of the metrics are warning signs. In February I was like, “There's less lead activity. That's interesting.”. Because I looked at those numbers and really have been watching them, I wasn't super surprised by what’s currently happening. 
  • I went through the 2008 financial meltdown and the Dot-Com bubble burst, so I've been waiting for the market to shift down again — it's simply economics. Closely following the numbers in my business allows me to see trends and prepare for possible shifts. 

Lesson #5: Increase your cash reserves whenever possible.

  • Over the last 18 to 24 months I’ve worked to build a bigger cash reserve and increase my business credit. I constantly look ahead and ask “What can I do right now to extend my runway?”.
  • If you need to assess your cash flow, start by asking yourself some big questions:
    • How much money do you spend on a monthly basis? 
    • How much money do you have coming in? 
    • If no money is coming in, how long can you last? (For a lot of us, that answer is very scary.) 
    • What can you control right now in terms of that cash flow? Things like not making any new investments, not investing in the course that's being dangled in there in front of you in terms of new solutions? 
    • How can you hold the line on your current budget? 
    • How can you look at your budget and get creative?

Lesson #6: Know when to take the help.

  • In times like these, you need to get creative and not be too proud about it. I'm fully disclosing I'm taking the wage subsidy (in Canada) because I pay taxes and I pay into that program. I'm planning to leverage that program because the only person I'm taking money from is the government. 
  • In the U.S., there’s a SBA Disaster Recovery Loan you can apply for. Yes, it's a loan, but if that's what you need to sustain your business, then so be it. 
  • As a small business owner, it's a big mistake for us right now to say, “That's not for me”. That was my first reaction when I saw the wage subsidy. I immediately was like, “I only have one employee.” But then it occurred to me that if I can save 10% of her salary it’s a smart business decision. 
  • Getting over our ego and asking for help right now is the best thing we could do as business owners. Hold on to your money. Extend your runway. Take advantage of any grace we have. 

Lesson #7: Help others where you can. 

  • I'm really big on holding existing commitments. I'm paying for a mastermind right now. I’ll continue to pay for that mastermind for the full year as I made a commitment. That’ll stay in my budget, but I’m not making new investments right now. 
  • This is the time where we, as citizens, as business owners, can make some really smart strategic choices to assist and aid other small businesses. 
  • If you're paying yourself a really good healthy salary, guess what? That's going to be the thing that you need to have a little flex on. You may be the one who's  going to take that hit instead of passing it on to your team. 
  • By no means should anyone go into crippling amounts of debt, but you should get a handle on what you can really do and where you can maintain. Be transparent and have the difficult conversations NOW so those who’ll be impacted by potential changes are prepared.  

Lesson #8: Keep it real. 

  • These are completely unusual circumstances so I think being honest about being scared and concerned, instead of what I'm seeing out there, which is the Pollyanna School of Business, is way more impactful. 
  • We need to keep running our businesses. We need to keep selling. We need to keep making money, but the reality of this is that some of that’s going to change. We can't pretend it's going to be normal. I'm not going to pretend having everyone in my house all day long and playing maid and cook is really going to work for me long-term, and my business will be fine because I don’t know that for sure right now.

Lesson #9: Be open to changing course. 

  • In a case like what we’re all dealing with right now, adjusting your marketing is going to be necessary. Don't stop marketing. It might be your tone or it might be your tactics, but something is going to need to change. For example, we do a lot of cold outreach. My cold outreach is now on hold because it’s a waste of time and energy right now for everybody. I don't think it's going to be super well-received, so why would I continue?
  • What worked before may not work now. What works now may not work a month from now. Reevaluate as you go.
  • If you’re offering services or thinking about offering services, and you need money in the door, this isn’t the time to play with premium pricing. That doesn’t mean under-pricing, but think critically about the decisions you're going to make in terms of what you're going to offer, how you're going to do it, and how you're going to price it, because the market is going to be fierce and competitive. 

Lesson #10: Create a business to capitalize on your skills and fill the gaps in the market. 

  • As the workforce contracts, there will be opportunities and work available for those thinking about freelancing or building a micro agency. If you’re someone who has very specific skill sets, like training and development, or HR, sales training, or marketing, those internal teams are going to shrink and they're going to need people to fill those gaps. 
  • One of the biggest value propositions you can provide as a service provider is, “I can get started pretty quickly. You don't have to teach me. You don't have to give me anything. Just sign this contract and I'm sending you an invoice at the end.”.
  • Once you've done the work to make those clients happy, to delight them, that's how your business begins to grow.

Create Profit Without Worry – one system at a time. I’ll show you how to attract a steady flow of buyers without all the hustle with this free download →  5 Steps To Profit Without Worry.

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